Is there a particular secret to being a good parent? I’ve been pondering these questions since reading a column in The Independent earlier this week asking what makes a good parent.
This column, penned by Annalisa Barbieri, was itself inspired after the news of a couple who had their foster children taken away from them, solely for the fact they support Ukip.
So, what does make a good parent? Ms. Barbieri concludes that it must be trust. Trust in your child and also in yourself for doing as good a job as possible at this parenting lark. And to that end, I agree. But, I think the the ‘secret’ (if there is such a thing) is more than that; more complex, more difficult but also so rewarding.
So, back to the question; what makes a good parent? Here are my top 6 thoughts on the matter.
Parents as role-models
I think it’s important for parents to lead by example; it’s not enough to tell your child right from wrong, good from bad, what’s dangerous from what’s safe, you ideally need to show them. Our children will develop their sense of identity and personal views and opinions from the people closest to them. As their parents, that’s us. This is a major responsibility and one I feel bearing down heavily on my shoulders at times.
I am conscious that the things I say or the behaviour I exhibit can be easily interpreted and repeated by Olivia and William. I always try to be careful to make sure I am a positive influence and role model. Olivia once caught me shaving my legs and then said hers were too hairy. She’s 3-years-old, there’s no way I’m going to be encouraging that sort of talk at her age. I spoke to her about it, complimented her, I didn’t dismiss her comment but spoke to her about it and explained why her legs are fine the way they are. I’ve since contemplated binning my razor to show her it’s something she shouldn’t be ashamed of (I haven’t though, I just make sure I do it in absolute secret). I don’t want to be overly serious about it but I know from personal experience how a flippant remark can have a major impact on you.
I’ve needed to wear glasses since I was about 3-years-old or so. I never thought it out of the ordinary as I’d worn them for as long as I could remember. But, when I started school, I stood out as the one with the glasses and some of the other kids at school would make fun of me. Being called ‘four-eyes’ is never fun and I’ve grown up with a strong dislike of my specs as a result.
Likewise, as a young teenager, my parents came up with one or 2 ‘funny’ nicknames for me. They were w8-related – ‘Chunkasaur’ was one – despite me not being overw8 (I think this was where the humour was supposed to lie). If I’m honest, those nicknames cut into me like a sharp knife every time I heard them. I tried to laugh along but deep down inside it didn’t do my self-esteem a lot of good. My confidence has always tended to be on the low side (when I first met my husband, I was convinced it would only be a matter of time before he found out the ‘true’ me – boring and plain) and I’m very critical of the way I look. I’m not saying that these comments were solely responsible for this, but I don’t think they helped.
Now, I’m not in any way accusing my parents of being bad parents. They weren’t. I think I’ve turned out pretty well with good morals, ideals and a sense of right and wrong. They did their best and yes, perhaps made some mistakes along the way but who hasn’t? No-one’s perfect. It’s how we learn from these mistakes and move on that’s important.
Listening to our children and understanding and empathising
We need to listen to what our children are telling us. And take it seriously. Their thoughts, worries, excited squeals or anguished cries shouldn’t be dismissed. It can be easy for children to take things to heart, especially if they are sensitive souls (see my examples above!). Not listening properly risks signalling to a child that they’re not important when we all know they are the most important thing in the world (or our worlds at any rate).
But children also need to feel that they can talk to their parents. I suppose this is where the issue of trust comes in. And tied within that, I think, is the ability to understand and empathise with our children.
I remember that someone I knew was bullied when they were in secondary school. Thankfully it wasn’t an overly lengthy episode but did culminate with the bully in question stamping on this person’s glasses (and no, this isn’t about me. I got made fun of because of my glasses but never bullied, not like that). I think the parents handled it in the right way. They listened to their child, comforted them and didn’t fly off the handle with the bully’s parents, according to their child’s wishes. Instead, they spoke to the school, demanded the bully’s family pay for replacement glasses and insisted that his family give them the money directly. I think it was this last act that shamed the family so, the bullying stopped from that moment on.
Making time for our children
One of the things I believe above all else about children is that, for the most part and especially for young children, the most important thing to them isn’t the latest toy, or getting the most fashionable trainers, or where they go on holiday. It’s how you spend your time with them that they value the most. With technology as it is nowadays, it’s so easy to get carried away checking emails, or keeping track of what friends are up on the various social ne2rks. The housework is always there to do and then there’s the weekly food shop; bills to sort out; rushing here, there and everywhere for various groups and clubs. It can be very easy to sit on the sofa with a cup of tea while watching your child take on a jigsaw, or watching their imagination flourish with a game they’ve made up.
But, it’s always more fun – more exhausting but always way more fun – to get on the floor with them and join in. One of my children’s most favourite games at the moment is to pretend I’m a horse. They’ll climb all over me while I crawl around the floor singing the “Horsey, horsey, don’t you stop…” song. They love it. I love it. This is what my moments at home were made for. The housework can wait.
Being a parent, not a friend
Having fun together as a family is so important, but I think it’s important that children realise the distinction between friends and parents. It’s important that children learn boundaries by parents through firm and consistent discipline.
Learning from what has gone before
I know what it’s like to be a child because, believe it or not, I was one once. We all have our own experiences of what it’s like to be young and it’s this experience that can really shape us as parents as well as human beings. As a result of my upbringing, there are things that my parents did with me that I try to repeat with my children. At the same time, there are other things that I don’t. In a way, I think it’s good that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent; by making mistakes, we’re able to learn and evolve as mothers and fathers. The long-term effect of this is that our children, once they are grown up with families of their own, should look back at their upbringing and combine the the best bits of our parenting with their own ideas, making them even better parents. I think that’s really positive.
Respecting each other
In Annalisa Barbieri’s Independent column, she wrote that respect is often another word for fear and that striving for it isn’t something we should try to achieve. I respectfully disagree. Positive respect (as in, not making your child afraid of you) is very important and, I believe, comes as a result of doing all of the things I’ve mentioned above. By showing your children what behaviour is acceptable, making time for them, listening to them, empathising with them, I truly believe respect will follow. Of course, this is a 2-way street. You need to show respect to gain respect but again, this is all linked into the other issues I’ve described above. Plus, I think showing respect is tied into allowing your child some freedom; freedom to have fun, have adventures, learn things for themselves, investigate who they are and what life is all about. We, as parents, are here only as a guide after all.
What do you think makes a good parent? What’s your ‘secret’ to successful parenting?